Weapons of the Mind: Jon Anderson of the US Army is an Olympic Alternate

By Betsy Veysman

A year ago, Jon Anderson wasn’t ranked at 74 kg in Greco Roman wrestling.  In fact, he wasn’t even a full time Greco Roman wrestler.

Now, after a third place performance at the Olympic Trials on April 22 in Iowa City, Jon Anderson is an alternate on the United States Greco Roman Olympic Team after coming into the Trials seeded seventh.

So, how did he climb the ladder so fast?

It could be the experience he’s had with quick adjustments.  After all, Anderson moved around quite a bit as a child, living in Germany on two separate occasions as well as Washington, Kansas, Georgia and Virginia.

Or, it could be that becoming a force in Greco was less daunting than the many types of challenges he has seen over his years in the Army, including stints in Iraq.

But Anderson would tell you that much of his success is in his head.  The grappler believes that the mental skills training that he has applied to many aspects of his life and has shared with everyone from basic training personnel to Iraqi soldiers in the Middle East is the key to his progress.

When Anderson arrived at West Point for college, he was a relative newcomer to wrestling, having first tried the sport as a high school sophomore who was getting “run over” in football.  As a freshman 125 pounder, he tore his meniscus and although he made weight for the EIWA tournament by “skipping on one foot”, he was unable to compete.  The same was true for much of his second season as he again suffered a knee injury.

As a junior, he was determined to make up for lost time.  Having grown several inches, he competed at 141 pounds and was in a tight battle throughout the campaign for the starting job.  With the conference tournament approaching, he lost the last wrestleoff and once again didn’t participate in the postseason.   Disappointed, he wanted to be sure to take full advantage of his one remaining year.

“I got involved in the Center for Enhanced Performance,” Anderson said. “I learned about stepping up my mental strategies and being mentally prepared for anything. It made a big difference.  I had a great year as a senior that I was proud of.”

Anderson won the New York State title, the All-Academy Championships and placed third at the EIWAs at 165 pounds with a victory over former NCAA champion Troy Letters of Lehigh.

“The Letters match is the most memorable of them all for me,” he said.  “He was a wrestling legend and when I defeated him, I knew that I had the potential to go on and beat anyone.”

It turned out to be Anderson’s last collegiate victory as he went 0-2 at NCAAs after facing All-Americans in both of his matches – Iowa State’s Travis Paulson and Iowa’s Eric Luedke.

“I was still young in the sport and those guys were better,” he said. “But it left me really hungry.  It fueled the fire for me and it helped me to this day.  I didn’t dwell on it, I just focused on moving forward.”

That he did.  He was a graduate assistant at West Point Prep school for six months and went to Ranger School.  Starting in 2007, he was a platoon leader, an executive officer and a company commander.  He spent time in Iraq.  All the while, he kept working on his mental skills approaches, teaming up with sports psychologist Steve DeWiggins to develop programs he implemented within the military.

“We did mental toughness training,” he said.  “As a platoon leader, I used it to enhance infantry unit performance.  In Iraq, we used it to train Iraqi soldiers to do their missions better.  We trained drill sergeants and we did basic training cycles for new soldiers.  We focused on things like goal setting, energy management, imagery, attention control and building confidence.  The results were phenomenal. And along the way, I continued to apply everything to myself.”

While Anderson hadn’t wrestled for a while after college, he got involved in Combatives, which he described as mixed martial arts in the Army.  He and some colleagues formed “Team No Name” and trained together.

He won the 2010 All-Army Combatives Championships, including a victory in the finals over an opponent Anderson said trained in MMA for eight years.

“Combatives was a springboard for me back into wrestling,” he said. “I wanted to keep the momentum going.  I started training for Greco Roman events.”

Why Greco?  It wasn’t because of experience, which for Anderson was limited to a couple of tournaments while at West Point.

Anderson chose Greco because after the success he had in Combatives, he had a new goal in mind.

“I wanted to be an Olympic champ,” he said. “I knew my best chance was in Greco.  I never had a lot of success in Freestyle and Greco evens things out on the feet and turns it into a fight.  That works for me.”

Anderson received extended duty to train for the 10 months prior to the Olympic Trials.  He moved to Colorado Springs, watched a lot of video and worked out with the World Class Athlete program.

“I was submerged in training,” he said. “I improved by leaps and bounds.  I needed to use the mental skills training because I needed to make up time.  Most of the other guys had been wrestling Greco for years and I only had a matter of months.  I used imagery to learn quicker, stayed really mentally focused and applied the techniques every day.  I wrote down my goals every day.  I visualized what I wanted and had a great routine before stepping on the mat.”

Although seeded seventh, Anderson felt confident coming into the Trials.

“My goal was to place first,” he said.  “I was expecting great things.  I felt that I was doing a little better at each competition and that I was peaking at the right time.  I felt that it would be a good tournament.”

It was.  He began by losing the first period against Marco Toledo in his initial match, but he came back to win 0-1, 1-0, 4-1.  That victory earned him a meeting with Andy Bisek, who had qualified the 74 kg spot for the United States for the London Olympics and according to Anderson, was the favorite despite his number two seed.

“That might have been the best part of the tournament for me – gut wrenching Bisek,” Anderson said. “In the third I had to get the turn to win.  He’s been pretty much unstoppable at the tournaments he’s been in.  I hit a fake left, gut wrench right and secured the victory.  I’ve been working on that, drilling that.  It all came together for me in that match.  I knew I needed a perfect match to beat him and I did it.”

Eventual champion Ben Provisor defeated Anderson 1-0, 1-0 in the semifinals, sending him to the consolation bracket.  In his next bout, he dropped the first period 4-0 to Tanner Andrews of the USOEC.

“I lost to him at the Dave Schultz International in February so I had some vengeance to pay back there,” Anderson said.  “I came out for business in the second period.  I turned up the heat and stayed aggressive.  I have a refocus technique that I used when down throughout the tournament. I told myself to ‘turn on the smokes’.  I tried a few moves and eventually got in a scramble, got him off balance, caught him on his back and pinned him.”

Next up was the third place match, which had significant implications.  With a win, Anderson would make the national team and be an alternate on the Olympic team.  But even beyond that, a win would allow Anderson to stay in Colorado and train.  Otherwise, he said he would “probably be back to a typical officer timeline” and would have to wait at least several months to get back to the Centennial State.

Anderson had lost the first period of each of his four matches to that point, but not in the bronze bout.  Jake Fisher gutwrenched Anderson early, however the former West Point grappler reversed it and got the fall in 1:54.  Third place was his.

“Fisher was the top guy at the weight for a long time,” he said. “I fell behind but stayed with it and put an end to it quickly. I finished the tournament right.”

Anderson now feels that he has the tools, both mentally and physically, to continue his rapid improvement in the Greco discipline.

“I’ll be attending all the Olympic team camps, improving every day,” he said. “I want to keep winning matches for the US Army and the United States.  I want to be part of the Olympic experience.  It’s a very valuable time right now.”

While focused on his goals on the mat, Anderson is also a Masters Student in Sports Psychology, as well as a husband and a father to a seven month old.

He credited his great support structure of “faith, family, friends and chain of command” for helping him.  And of course, he is grateful for his mental skills training, especially with DeWiggins.

The pair has worked over time on the four-phase mental skills approach that begins with preparation well before an event, including setting goals and utilizing positive imagery.

Anderson can visualize himself on the Olympic podium.

“The work I’ve done with Steve [DeWiggins] has been a great asset to my life and training. Everything Steve and I have touched, from implementing battle drills to my Olympic dreams, has turned to gold.  Now, I want to make that into a physical gold medal.”


Dake Comes Through in the Clinch at the Olympic Trials

By Betsy Veysman

The winner of the ball draw wins a freestyle period more than 80% of the time, according to the announcers of this past weekend’s Olympic Trials.

When the draw doesn’t go his way, Kyle Dake believes he’s in that 20%.

“Kyle is so hard to score on, he’s not at as much of a disadvantage as most people in the clinch situation,” said Cornell assistant coach Jeremy Spates.  “Watching him this weekend honestly made me feel a little better because I can never finish on him.”

“I’m pretty good at defending my leg,” Dake added.  “I work on it a lot, even during the college season, just messing around with Frank Perrelli.  I have pretty good balance and that seems to help in those situations.”

It definitely helped last year at the World Team Trials when Dake faced NCAA champion JP O’Connor in the first round.  After splitting the first two periods, the Empire State grapplers ended the third scoreless, meaning the winner would be decided in the clinch.

O’Connor had the advantage, at least according to the statistics, when the ball picked out of the bag was his color, meaning he started the 30 second stanza holding one of Dake’s legs.

To capture the period, and the bout, O’Connor simply had to score.  However, with Dake, that wasn’t so simple.  Dake fought off the Harvard graduate’s attempts for the full 30 seconds, initially in a full split and for the last several seconds withstanding O’Connor’s throw attempts from a body lock.

This past Saturday at the Olympic Trials, Dake once again beat the odds (and almost did it twice) in his quarterfinal bout against third-seeded Nick Marable.   After a scoreless first period, Marable won the ball draw, but Dake stymied the Sunkist Kids wrestler’s attack for 25 seconds before Marable broke through to take the period 1-0.

Dake got another chance after a 0-0 third stanza when Marable again got the advantageous starting position.  This time, Dake not only warded off the former Missouri All-American’s scoring attempts, he also found a way to put a point on the board for himself, pushing his opponent out of bounds while hopping, to notch the 1-0 victory.

“Kyle pushed him all the way from the center of the mat while on one foot,” Spates said. “Marable’s a pretty strong kid.  That was just impressive.”

“I was pretty upset after the first period when he scored with just a few seconds left,” Dake added.  “In the third, I backhooked his leg and kept pushing him.  In that position, if he didn’t go backwards, he was going to his back.  It was a different situation that I found myself in, and it really worked out.”

While not in a clinch, the Saturday moment many wrestling fans were talking about also started from a compromising situation for Dake in a match with Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor.

Dake decisively took the first period, 5-0.  In the second, Taylor hit a low single and looked to be in ideal shape to either push Dake out or get the takedown.

However, as he has done countless times in his Cornell career, Dake found a way to turn a precarious scenario to his advantage.  While balancing on one leg, the Big Red grappler picked Taylor’s knee and drove him to the mat for a dramatic pin.

“I thought Kyle would win, but I didn’t think he’d do it in such dominating fashion,” Spates said of the highly anticipated meeting between NCAA champions.  “Beforehand, I don’t think Kyle was any more excited than if he was wrestling anyone else. But afterwards, he was pretty excited that he had the chance to show what he could do.  People were talking about that matchup quite a bit since NCAAs, and I think we were all kind of tired of hearing about it.  It was nice to have it happen on the mat.”

Dake agreed, noting that he was excited to wrestle Taylor, but “wanted to do it on the front side, not in the consis.”

Dake found himself in the consolations after dropping a three-period bout to veteran freestyler Trent Paulson.   He now hopes to get another chance against the Cyclone Wrestling Club grappler.

“I’d like to face him again,” Dake said. “He was really strong and has been on the senior level for a long time.  He’s been thinking freestyle for a while and that’s where his techniques are.  With a little more time to work and prepare, I feel like I could do better next time.”

A year ago, Dake was saying the same thing about Marable after dropping a bout against him in June of 2011.

“Kyle goes into every match with the mentality that he will beat whoever he wrestles,” Spates said.  “When he loses a match, he says, ‘I don’t think I’ll lose to that guy ever again.’  Last year he lost to Marable at the World Team Trials.  This weekend, he beat him twice – in three periods and then more convincingly the second time.”

That second victory earned Dake third place in the Challenge Tournament at 74 kg, a performance the fans seemed to appreciate.

“The funny thing is that people flock to [Dake],” Spates said. “Everyone wanted to congratulate him.  He handles it great.  He likes to interact with everyone. I told him we should throw a shirt over his head and walk him out like they do with the paparazzi.”

The attention on Dake won’t go away as he goes for his fourth national championship next season.  And when his college days are over, he showed this weekend that he will be a force to reckon with on the freestyle scene.

According to Spates, Dake’s smooth transition to freestyle comes from the solid base he developed when he was younger as well as his combination of explosiveness and great defense.

But Dake’s ability and belief that he can win the tiebreaking clinch no matter what ball is pulled out of the bag is significant as well.

“Kyle’s just ‘game time’,” Spates said.  “He likes those situations when his back is against the wall.  A lot of people might be nervous when it all comes down to that clinch, but he’s not.”

Like Father, Like Son: Mark Gillen "Comes From Nowhere" to Qualify for Olympic Trials

By Betsy Veysman

It was a pretty good weekend to be named Mark Gillen.

On March 31 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mark Gillen Sr. achieved a goal he set over 20 years ago when he won the Veterans Folkstyle National championship at 152 pounds.  On the same day, his son Mark Jr. punched his ticket to the 2012 Olympic Trials at 60 kg in Greco Roman with a second place finish at the Last Chance Qualifier.

For many, Mark Jr.’s runner up finish came out of nowhere, as other than an open tournament in Canastota earlier in March, he hadn’t competed since taking third at the New York State championships in 2009 as a senior for Johnstown High School.

Those who know the Gillens, however, weren’t overly surprised.  They may simply suggest that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Rewind back to 1989, when after three full years without any wrestling following a car accident, Mark Sr. decided he wanted to test himself on the mat again.  He worked on an exercise bicycle for a month and then drove to Topeka, Kansas with his wife for the USA Wrestling Greco Senior Nationals.

Gillen Sr., who had been training for the 1988 Olympics before his accident, beat the alternate for that Olympic team in overtime in the quarterfinals and then, in great pain, left the tournament with no losses and a sixth place medal.

“I really wanted to do it one more time,” he said. “I didn’t wrestle before going, I just biked because my back was really bad.  People called me the ‘phantom wrestler’ because I snuck up out of nowhere. It was a lot like what my son just did.”

Over the following six years, Mark Sr. underwent four back surgeries.  The discomfort was significant, but he longed for another chance on the mat.

“I said that if my back healed and I could get back into shape, I would do it again,” he said.  “I wanted a Hail Mary, a last hurrah. I decided that when I turned 50 I would wrestle at the Veteran Nationals with a goal of winning in all three styles.” (The championship he won on March 31 was the first part, in folkstyle).

To reach that objective, he knew he needed a training partner.  He didn’t have to look too far to find a good candidate – Mark Jr.

So, the pair began to work out, with an eye toward getting Mark Sr. on top of the Veterans Nationals podium three times.  But there was another, albeit longer term, goal in mind.  Mark Jr. had dreams of making an Olympic Team in Greco, as his father had dreamed years ago.  Believing that the window of opportunity to make a run at the 2012 squad had closed, the Gillens saw the training as the first step in Mark Jr.’s preparation for the 2016 Olympic Trials.

But then something unexpected happened.  When Mark Sr. was in the process of signing up for the Veterans Nationals, he saw the Last Chance Qualifier listed on the website.  He realized that his son could attempt an Olympic berth four years earlier than anticipated.

“We thought we were training anyway, so why not do it?” Mark Sr. said.  “We wanted to see where he would fall against the best competition.”

So, Mark Jr. registered, at first preparing to wrestle both Freestyle and Greco.

“Mark and I have always been the same.  We both would rather do Freestyle, but we’re just better at Greco,” the father said.  “I always wished I was at the same level in free as I was in Greco.”

A few weeks before their big events in Iowa, father and son competed in an open tournament at the Mohawk Valley Festival in Canastota in both styles.  Mark Jr. took first in a small class in Freestyle while Mark Sr. was sixth against a much younger group of challengers.

“I don’t think I had wrestled Freestyle since before anyone else I wrestled in the tournament was even born,” Mark Sr. said.  “It was fun though.  The next day was Greco and my son went up to 152 pounds and beat everyone, including most of the guys who had beaten me the day before in Freestyle.  It was great to be avenged by my son.”

Even with that successful foray into Freestyle, there was a change of heart as the Last Chance Qualifier approached.

“[Longtime coach and friend] Joe DeMeo suggested that Mark just wrestle Greco,” Mark Sr. said.  “He thought Mark could be a real contender for a spot in the Olympic Trials if he stuck to Greco.  Mark listened and really believed he could do it.”

That belief showed as he began the Last Chance Qualifier event with a pin in 1:30 against Eric Miller of Southern MN Wrestling Club.  He next earned a three period decision over Julian Gunnels of Warrior Wrestling Club before upsetting eighth-ranked Jimmy Chase of the NYAC to guarantee a bid to the Olympic Trials.  [Chase was granted a wildcard].

“I think it was a good thing that I had no idea who [Chase] was before the match,” Gillen Jr. said.  “I just went in and wrestled my match and it seemed to work out well.  I was able to score off my headlock and I felt like I controlled the match for the most part.”

“My expectations were that he would be competitive but if I’m being honest, I didn’t think he would make the finals,” Mark Sr. added.  “The win over [Jimmy] Chase was great. Chase was saying afterwards that he couldn’t believe he got beat by that ‘no-name.’”

In the finals, Gillen Jr. lost in two periods to Chad Vandiver of Sunkist Kids.

“I think after I qualified, it hit me where I was and I got extremely nervous,” Gillen Jr. added. “I got caught up in the moment.  But in a way it’s better that I lost in the finals.  It gave me the motivation to come out and train and push on.  It was definitely a wake up call that there was a lot to do before the Olympic Trials.”

It also was hard for Mark Jr. to be too disappointed in his finals loss after realizing what his family had achieved.

“Probably the best part of the weekend was watching my dad win,” he said. “We were both training together and I watched him win his final right before I wrestled.  There wasn’t enough time in between his match and mine, so he coached me still wearing his singlet.  It was really cool to both reach our goals.”

It wasn’t the first time Mark Jr. had beaten the odds with little preparation.

The younger Gillen had what his father called a “spotty” career for Johnstown High.  He medaled at states as a junior and senior, but in an earlier campaign missed weight by a tenth of a pound and watched grapplers he had beaten place at the state tournament.

In his final season, he tore his meniscus in his fourth match.  He didn’t compete again, even at practice, until the Eastern States, where he aggravated the injury.

“At that point I didn’t think he’d be back,” said Mark Sr., who was the Johnstown head coach at the time. “He couldn’t run to get his weight down, so he went up a weight for sectionals.  He went to states still without practicing and lost one match, to the eventual champion, on a technical violation call.  It was incredible.”

Many would describe his Olympic Trials berth the same way.  Since qualifying, he has been preparing at the USOEC in Michigan.  He knows he’s a bit of a dark horse, but is excitedly awaiting next weekend’s event in Iowa City.

“I would like to at least win a couple of matches and get my name out there a little bit more,” he said. “I believe it myself and winning it would be nice.  We’ll see what happens.”

Mark Jr.’s move to Michigan has temporarily left his father without a workout partner.  But Mark Sr. marches on, getting ready for the final two parts of the Veterans Triple Crown. The Freestyle and Greco competitions are in early May in Arizona.

After that, Mark Sr. will look for a new target.

“After I finish the wrestling in May, I want to do the Ironman in Lake Placid,” he said. “I know that if I don’t keep a goal in front of me, I’ll be a couch potato.  It’s difficult to get into the Ironman, but I said I’m going to do it and I believe I will.”

Based on past experience, it’s hard to question him.   But in addition to working towards the many miles of swimming, biking and running involved in the Ironman, Mark Sr. will undoubtedly be assisting his son in his journey toward the Olympic goal that he also longed for before injuries derailed his chances.

“It’s been a great ride and it will continue to be,” Mark Sr. said. “I’ve been living my own dream and now I’m watching my son live his.”

Cornell's Frank Perrelli Does "Dirty" Work as Olympic Trials Approach

By Betsy Veysman

Frank Perrelli took care of business on the mat at the NCAA tournament in St. Louis, earning his first All-American honors with a fourth place showing.

But when he returned to Ithaca, there was still a lot of business left to do.

While the senior captain poured most of his focus into wrestling and academics at Cornell over the past year, he also spent considerable time on the business he co-owns with sophomore teammate Brett Henderson.

Henderson founded Dirty Surf & Skate, a company that produces all types of apparel, several years ago but took a break until he decided to re-start operations this past fall with Perrelli.

“I was really interested in the company, so when the opportunity arose, I hopped on board,” Perrelli said.  “Brett’s from California and I’m from New Jersey and spent my summers at the Jersey Shore. We’ve both spent a lot of time around the surf and skate community, so we’re using our roots and producing clothes for that community.”

The grapplers, both students in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell, are responsible for nearly all aspects of the business at this point.

“We’re doing all the grunt work and the designing, producing, marketing and promotion right now,” Perrelli said.  “There isn’t that much that we aren’t taking care of.”

The Hackettstown, New Jersey native admits that the venture took a bit of a backseat during the Big Red’s season.

It has likely done the same in recent weeks since late March, when Perrelli was granted a wildcard to the Olympic Trials, which will take place next Sunday, April 22 in Iowa City.

While the former University Nationals champion attained success in folkstyle for the Big Red, it’s no secret that freestyle, which takes advantage of his strengths in neutral, is his favorite type of wrestling.

“I really feel like freestyle complements my wrestling well,” he said. “I’ve done pretty well in competition the past couple of years while training only two months a year or less in freestyle.  Now that I’ll be able to dedicate all my wrestling time to freestyle rather than folk, I feel like I can make the big jumps and improve the way I want to.  When I can focus on freestyle, I think I’ll be among the best in the country, if not the best.  But I’m actually hoping to make that kind of statement next week at the Olympic Trials.”

He won’t enter the event as a favorite, but he is unlikely to be overlooked.  In the past few years, the two-time EIWA champion has defeated Nick Simmons (fifth at the 2011 World Championships) and former World Team Member Obe Blanc, while taking fifth at the 2011 US Senior Open.  In short, he has demonstrated that he can compete with the best the USA has to offer.

“Having beaten those guys definitely gives me confidence,” he said. “I know that I’m right there with them. Obviously, whoever has the best day next Sunday will make the Olympic team. I think that if I have a good day, I’m one of the guys that can make the team.”

He has had a lot of help in his preparation.  Big Red teammates Kyle Dake and Mack Lewnes have also been training for the Trials.  Dake received an at large bid after his third NCAA title in three years and Lewnes qualified in December of 2011 at an event in Las Vegas.   Many members of the Cornell staff have significant freestyle experience, as does Finger Lakes Wrestling Club head Clint Wattenberg.  Experienced freestyle coach Steve Knight of Excel Wrestling has also been in town assisting.

“There a ton of people for me to train with here,” Perrelli said. “We all try to help each other out.  Kyle and I had to make the switch from folkstyle pretty quickly and I think we have been able to do it in a short period of time because of our great staff.”

In addition to the great staff, Perrelli will be bringing a little Dirty Surf & Skate with him on his quest for London.

“We’re producing some Olympic Trials shirts for Mack, Kyle, and me.  We’re going to wear the shirts and my family is as well.  Obviously, the first priority for all of us is wrestling.  But we might as well promote the business as well on that stage.”

No matter what occurs in Iowa City, Perrelli is committed to the sport for the long haul.   He will remain in Ithaca next year, along with fellow senior Cam Simaz, to coach at the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club.

“I’m definitely not ready to leave Cornell yet,” he said.  “I call Ithaca home now.  And I really believe it is the best training situation for me, so it works out perfectly.  I am focused on the here and now, but no matter how much success I have this year, I see myself wrestling at least until 2016, if not longer.”

While competing in the sport will remain tops on his list, Perrelli is also glad that he will be able to continue his “Dirty” work.

“Wrestling will still come first, but I will have a lot more time to dedicate to the company,” he said. “It will definitely be a big part of my life.  Brett has a few more years around here, so we’ll have time to grow and build the company, which is really exciting.”

Also exciting to Perrelli is the opportunity to achieve more in the sport he loves.  While he was proud of making the podium this season, he said he wasn’t really satisfied.

“I honestly haven’t given too much thought to NCAAs since coming back,” he said. “Both losses I had were really close and in overtime.  There’s nothing I can do about that now, so I don’t dwell on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be an All-American, but I was really close to more than that and it’s disappointing.  I guess I’ll have to make up for it in freestyle.”


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